I am grateful to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity for inviting me to participate in this digital transformation summit in November 2019. Following is a responsive personal reflection on:
What do you think are the most promising ideas and activities for moving forward in a digital transformation in the arts?
Two ideas stood out to me: first, worldviews matter to how we regard and evolve our digital presence; second, the Canadian arts world is a latecomer to the digital realm—especially not-for-profit arts and arts service organizations—but it is working hard to catch up.
Indigenous Worldviews in the Digital World
These ideas kept coming back to me in several presentations, panels and hallway conversations. Bringing Indigenous worldviews and worldviews from outside western European traditions to bear on the way we conceive of the digital realm and its uses offers tremendous hope for our collective future well-being. The winners and losers paradigm that has driven digital innovation appears to reinforce—rather than improve —the real world dynamics between advantaged and disadvantaged groups; the colonizer and the colonized; the recent immigrant of colour and the predominantly white settler of European descent. By bringing the values, ways of connectedness and accountability of Indigenous peoples in Canada as well as people of colour to the forefront, we could draw on values-based frameworks of belief, thought and action that largely have eluded digital advances.
Catalytic digital investments bring art and technology together
The arts in Canada are working hard to catch up on understanding and making use of the digital realm for good. The Canada Council for the Arts said that only 39% of core applications to the Digital Strategy Fund have been funded during the first half of the fund’s life. This suggests a low understanding of the types of digital intelligence and digital transformations this fund envisioned among a majority of applicants. On the other hand, for many funded projects it is this catalytic investment that has been bringing digital technologists, strategists, consultants and not-for-profit arts organizations in closer contact. This contact appears to have begun to shift the conversation toward a greater understanding of the opportunities and challenges of the digital realm.
As new digital technologies and methods combine with massive increases in data speeds during the next decade, every sector of the arts and every stage in the creative production process will see new kinds of disruptions that challenge their traditional bricks and mortar models. By bringing technologists, digital visionaries, artists and arts organizations together to define mission-critical sector-wide issues and develop effective, scalable digital solutions, the Canadian arts sector can exert, at last, some influence in the digital world.
Today, we’ve launched digitalartsnation.ca, the website for Making Tomorrow Better: Taking Digital Action in the Performing Arts. This initiative received significant funding from the Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund in spring of 2019. The nation-wide partnership led by the Atlantic Presenters Association includes the Manitoba Arts Network, BC Touring Council, Island Mountain Arts/Northern Exposure, Yukon Arts Centre / N3 and the Yellowknife Arts & Cultural Centre.
Of note: most of the participants in the face-to-face workshops live on the edges of the country. therefore we tailor content to suit the realities, including slower internet connectivity, of rural and remote communities across Canada. Because what works there, will work in urban centres, too.
These workshops are designed to help participants speak digital with confidence – that is, we will demystify and discuss the digital realm in plain English – and quickly become competent participants in arts sector conversations about leading digital tools, emerging digital innovations, and new digital business models.
I hope that this assessment provides a springboard for new conversations and digital capacity in the presenting field.
The question at the core of this work is who will be the digital intermediaries for the performing arts; and whether the presenting field can carve out a digital space that supports and benefits the entire performing arts eco-system. Doing so, I think, would require both a transfer and an expansion of the arts presenting expertise we see on the theatre platform to new digital platforms.
Presenters historically have been the dominant platform where performing arts and audiences connect. The theatre, stage or the festival site literally act as a platform. With that, this report seeks to begin to answer – or at least inform – big questions:
Can live arts presenters re-invent distribution of performing arts at digital scale?
How will Canadian artistic talent be nurtured and supported to grow viable careers and earn fair compensation in the digital realm?
How can we, and should we, as a free, vibrant society assure a broad diversity of voices that reflect all of Canada is heard in digital spaces as well as live performance spaces?
What is the future of live Canadian theatre, dance, music and other performing arts as digital technologies and capacities of data networks continue to advance?
On a personal note, I so appreciate and enjoy working with my colleague-client, Frédéric Julien, Director of Research and Development at CAPACOA. He is a tireless advocate in the arts; and equal parts smart, rigorous in his thinking and affable. Thank you, Frédéric, for your work and your collaboration!
On Monday March 13, CAPACOA and Strategic Moves will facilitate an interactive web conversation on Digital Innovation in Performing Arts Presentation. Everyone is welcome to participate (10 am Pacific/1 pm Eastern).